Mary, Queen of Scots - Trenfo
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Mary, Queen of Scots

Summary

Mary I, née Mary Stuart (in English, Mary Stuart, Mary Stewart or Marie Steuart; December 8, 1542-February 8, 1587), was queen of Scotland from December 14, 1542 to July 24, 1567. The only legitimate daughter of James V, she succeeded her father on the Scottish throne at the age of six days. She spent most of her childhood in France, while Scotland was ruled by regents. In 1558 she was betrothed to the dauphin Francis, who ascended the French throne in 1559. Mary was briefly queen consort of France until Francis”s sudden death in December 1560. Now a widow, she returned to her homeland on August 19, 1561. Four years later, she married her first cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, with whom, in June 1566, she had her only son, James.

In February 1567, his consort”s residence was destroyed by an explosion and Henry was found murdered in the garden. James Hepburn was thought to have orchestrated the murder, but he was acquitted of the charges in April 1567 and, the following month, was united in marriage to the widow. After an uprising against the queen, she was imprisoned in the castle on Loch Leven. On July 24, 1567 she was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled south to seek the protection of her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Before arriving in England, Mary had already claimed rights to the English throne and many English Catholics considered her the rightful sovereign, including participants in a rebellion known as the Northern Rising. Perceiving her as a threat, Elizabeth I confined her to various castles and stately manors in the interior of the country. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was convicted of conspiring to assassinate the English queen in 1586. She was beheaded the following year at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary was born on December 8, 1542 in the palace of Linlithgow (Scotland). She was the daughter of the Scottish King James V and his second French wife, Mary of Guise, who a few years earlier had caused a scandal by her refusal to become the fourth wife of the English sovereign Henry VIII. According to some sources, she was born prematurely, the only legitimate child of the king. She was the only legitimate daughter of the king. Mary was a great-niece of Henry VIII, since her paternal grandmother Margaret Tudor was his sister. On December 14, six days after her birth, she was proclaimed queen of Scotland, after the death of her father, probably from the effects of a nervous breakdown after the battle of Solway Moss or from drinking dirty water during the campaign.

A popular legend, first recorded by John Knox, states that James V, hearing on his deathbed that his wife had given birth to a daughter, sadly exclaimed, “It cam wi” a lass and it will gang wi” a lass!” (It cam wi” a lass and it will gang wi” a lass!) The house of Stuart had obtained the Scottish throne by the marriage of Marjorie Bruce – daughter of Robert I Bruce – to Walter Stewart, VI grand seneschal of Scotland. Thus, James V meant that the Crown had come into the family through a woman and would lose it to a woman. This legendary statement actually came much later, not from Mary, but from one of her descendants, Queen Anne.

Mary was baptized in nearby St. Michael”s Church shortly after birth. Rumors spread that she was weak and frail, but an English diplomat, Ralph Sadler, saw the baby at Linlithgow Palace in March 1543, unwrapped by her nurse, and wrote to King Henry VIII: “so beautiful is the child as I have seen her for her age and how much she loves to live.” Because of her minority, Scotland was ruled by regents until she reached adulthood. From the beginning, there were two claims to the regency: one by the Catholic Cardinal David Beaton and the other by the Protestant James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, second in line to the Scottish throne. Beaton”s claim was based on a version of the king”s last will, but which his opponents dismissed as a forgery. With the support of his friends and family, the Earl of Arran held the regency until 1554, when the queen mother succeeded in removing him and seizing power.

Henry VIII of England took advantage of the regency to propose marriage between his son and heir Edward and Mary, in the hope of a union of Scotland and England. On July 1, 1543, when she was six months old, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which stipulated that, at the age of ten, she would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry VIII could supervise her education. It also stated that the two countries would remain legally separate and that if the couple had no children the temporary union would be dissolved. However, Cardinal Beaton returned to power again and began to push a pro-Catholic and pro-French agenda, which infuriated Henry VIII, who wanted to break the Scottish alliance with France. Beaton wanted to take her to fortified Stirling Castle, but Regent Arran opposed the move, although he agreed when Beaton”s armed supporters gathered at Linlithgow. The Earl of Lennox escorted Mary and her mother to Stirling on July 27, 1543 with 3500 armed men. She was crowned in the castle chapel on September 9, 1543, with “such solemnity as is customary in this country, not very costly,” according to Ralph Sadler and Henry Ray”s report.

Shortly before the coronation, Scottish merchants on their way to France were arrested by Henry VIII and their goods were confiscated, causing anger in Scotland and prompting the Earl of Arran to ally with Beaton and convert to Catholicism. The apprehensions caused anger in Scotland and prompted the Earl of Arran to ally with Beaton and convert to Catholicism. The Treaty of Greenwich was annulled by the Scottish Parliament in December. The suppression of the marriage agreement and the renewal of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland prompted the “English courtship” by Henry VIII, a military campaign designed to enforce his son”s marriage to Mary. English forces mounted a series of raids on Scottish and French territory. In May 1544, the Earl of Hertford, future Duke of Somerset, arrived at the Firth of Forth hoping to take Edinburgh and kidnap Mary, but the queen mother hid the child in the secret chambers of Stirling Castle. In May 1546, Beaton was killed by Protestant lairds and, on September 10, 1547, nine months after Henry VIII”s death, the Scots suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, in what became known as “Black Saturday”. Mary”s guardians, fearful for her safety, sent her to Inchmahome Priory for about three weeks and turned to the French for help.

Henry II of France proposed the union of France and Scotland with the marriage between the young queen and her three-year-old son, the dauphin Francis. It seemed to Mary of Guise the only reasonable solution to resolve the situation. With the promise of military aid and the title of duke in France, the Earl of Arran agreed to the engagement. In February 1548, upon learning that the British were returning, Mary was moved, again for safety, to Dumbarton Castle. The English left in their wake a trail of devastation and seized the town of Haddington. In June, long-awaited French aid arrived at Leith to besiege and finally retake Haddington. On July 7, a Scottish assembly held in a convent near the town approved the Treaty of Haddington with France.

With the marriage agreement in place, five-year-old Mary was sent to France to spend the next thirteen years at the Valois court, where her relatives, the Guises, controlled French politics for a time. The fleet sent by Henry II and commanded by Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon sailed with her from Dumbarton on August 7, 1548 and arrived a week-or so later-at Roscoff (or Saint-Pol-de-Léon) in Brittany. She was accompanied by her own court, including two illegitimate half-brothers and the “four Marys” – four girls of the same age, with the same name and daughters of some of the noblest families in Scotland: Beaton, Seton, Fleming and Livingston. Janet Stuart, mother of Mary Fleming and half-sister of James V, was appointed governess.

Maria, whom the historical sources of the time describe as a lively, beautiful girl, gifted with a kind and intelligent character, had a promising childhood. At the French court she was the favorite of all, except for the wife of Henry II, Catherine de Medici. She received the best possible education: she learned to play the lute and the virginal, was cultivated in prose, poetry, horsemanship, falconry and sewing, and was educated in French, Italian, Latin, Spanish and Greek, besides speaking her native Scots. Her future sister-in-law, Isabella de Valois, was her close friend, of whom she “retained nostalgic memories in later life.” Her maternal grandmother, Antoinette de Bourbon-Vendôme, had an important influence on her childhood and was one of her chief advisors.

Her beauty was praised by many of her contemporaries and her physical complexion had the solemn bearing that was appreciated in a sovereign. Her portraits show that she had a small, oval head, a long, graceful neck, ashy blonde hair in childhood that darkened in maturity to a vermilion color, hazel brown eyes, thick, lowered eyelids, finely arched eyebrows, smooth, pale skin, high, regular forehead with firm features. At some point in his infancy or childhood he contracted smallpox, which left no visible marks on his physique when treated with a special ointment; however, Elizabeth I described his complexion as disfigured by the disease. He was eloquent and of particularly tall stature by 16th century standards, reaching an adult height of 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m), while Henry II”s son and heir, Francis, stuttered and was abnormally short in stature. The French king commented, “from the first day they met, my son and she understood each other as well as if they had known each other for a long time.” On April 4, 1558, Mary signed a secret agreement bequeathing Scotland and her claim to England to the French Crown if she died without offspring. Twenty days later, she was married in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris to the dauphin of France, who was also proclaimed king of Scotland iure uxoris.

In November 1558, Henry VIII”s eldest daughter, Mary I, the last Catholic queen of England, died and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I. According to the genealogical line, the Queen of Scots was second in succession to the English throne after her cousin Elizabeth. The rights claimed went back to the brothers Henry VIII and Margaret Tudor (Mary”s paternal grandmother). Margaret was married to James IV of Scotland, father of James V and grandfather of Mary. However, since Elizabeth I was considered illegitimate by many Catholics in Europe-indeed, her own father had removed her from the line of succession by annulling her marriage to Anne Boleyn-Henry II of France proclaimed his eldest son and daughter-in-law kings of England; in France, the royal arms of England were quartered on the coats of arms of Francis and Mary. In England, according to the third Act of Succession, passed in 1543 by Parliament, Elizabeth was recognized as heir to her half-sister, since Henry VIII”s last will and testament had excluded the Stuarts from the succession.

The claim to the English throne was a permanent point of friction between the queens of Scotland and England. When Henry II died on July 10, 1559, due to injuries sustained in a joust, Francis (aged 15) and Mary (aged 17) were declared kings of France. Two of the queen”s uncles – the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine – then dominated French politics and enjoyed a power referred to by some historians as the tyrannie Guisienne.

In Scotland, the power of the Protestant Lords of the Congregation was growing at the expense of Mary”s mother, who retained effective control through the use of French troops. The Protestant Lords invited English troops to Scotland in an attempt to secure their religion. In March 1560, a Huguenot uprising in France-the Amboise plot-made it impossible for the French to send further support. The fifty-two Amboise conspirators were executed publicly and before Francis II, his mother Catherine, his brother Charles, and Mary, who alone was horrified, but was rebuked by her mother-in-law, who reminded her that “a queen should not feel emotions.” The Guises sent ambassadors to negotiate an agreement. On June 11, 1560, Mary”s mother died and the problem of future Franco-Scottish relations was pressing. Under the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, signed by Mary”s representatives on July 6, 1560, France and England undertook to withdraw their troops in Scotland, while the French king recognized Elizabeth I”s right to rule England. The delicate political and religious situation in France did not allow other solutions, but Francis II and Mary – still grieved by the death of her mother – refused to officially ratify the treaty.

On December 5, 1560, two years after his marriage, Francis II died of a middle ear infection that led to a brain abscess. His widow, eighteen years old, was grief-stricken, went to wear white in mourning and lived in solitude the forty-day mourning; then she moved to Lorraine with her aunt and uncle. Catherine de Medici, already regent of the ten-year-old brother of the late king, Charles IX, believed that two widowed queens were too many and, when the Stuarts returned to court, ordered him to return to Scotland to fix the serious crisis that was brewing in his country. In fact, the Scottish Parliament, without royal consent, had ratified the modification of the state religion from Catholic to Protestant. The queen refused to endorse the laws passed by Parliament and the new Church existed in a state of legal uncertainty.

Mary left for Scotland nine months later and arrived in Leith on August 19, 1561. Having lived in France since the age of five, she had little experience with the dangerous and complex political situation in Scotland; if she did not have the support of her cousin Elizabeth I, she would have to capitulate quickly. A devout Catholic, she was treated with suspicion by many of her subjects, as well as by the Queen of England. Scotland was divided between Catholic and Protestant factions. Mary”s illegitimate half-brother, the Earl of Moray, was one of the Protestant leaders. The Protestant reformer John Knox preached harshly against her and condemned her for going to mass, dancing and wearing elaborate clothes, among many other “sins”. Knox was summoned by the queen to object to her curses, but did not appear; later, she accused him of treason, although he was acquitted and released.

To the disappointment of the Catholic camp, the queen tolerated the newly established Protestant supremacy and retained her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, as her chief adviser. Her sixteen-man privy council-appointed on September 6, 1561-ratified in their offices of state those who already held them and remained dominated by the Protestant leaders of the 1559-1560 reform crisis: the Earls of Argyll, Glencairn and Moray. Only four of the councillors were Catholic: the earls of Atholl, Erroll, Montrose and Huntly, who was also lord chancellor. Modern historian Jenny Wormald found this exceptional and suggested that the queen”s failure to appoint a royal council sympathetic to Catholic and French interests indicated that her primary focus was the English throne to the detriment of Scottish internal affairs. Moreover, the only significant subsequent addition to the council, Lord Ruthven, in December 1563, was another Protestant whom he personally disliked. In doing so, he recognized his lack of military power vis-à-vis the Protestant lords, while pursuing a policy that strengthened his ties with England. In 1562, she allied with Lord Moray in the expulsion of Scotland”s leading Catholic magnate, Lord Huntly, who led a Highland rebellion against her.

She sent William Maitland of Lethington as ambassador to the English court to present her case as heir presumptive to the throne. Elizabeth I refused to name a possible heir, as she feared that doing so would stimulate a conspiracy to displace her with the designated successor: “I know the fickleness of the people of England, I know that they always dislike the present government and have their eyes on the next person in the line of succession.” However, Elizabeth I assured Maitland that, among the possible heirs, her niece was her favorite and the one with the most legitimate rights. In late 1561 and early 1562, arrangements were made for the two queens to meet in England, probably at York or Nottingham, in August or September 1562, but in July Elizabeth I sent Henry Sidney to cancel the plans because of the civil war in France.

Maria concentrated on finding a new husband from the royalty of Europe who would guarantee her a useful political alliance. Without asking for her consent, the Cardinal of Lorraine, her uncle, began negotiations with the Archduke Charles of Austria, son of Emperor Ferdinand I. However, Maria saw no advantage in such a union and had a falling out with her uncle for involving her too much in other political arrangements. Her own attempt to arrange a marriage with Charles, the mentally unstable heir of Philip II of Spain, was rejected by the latter.

In an attempt to neutralize her, Elizabeth I suggested that she marry the English Protestant Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester – brother-in-law of Henry Sidney and favorite or lover, according to some sources, of the English queen – whom she trusted and believed she could control. Moreover, with Dudley, a Protestant, such a union would have satisfactorily solved the English queen”s double problem. She sent an ambassador – Thomas Randolph – to Scotland to propose the engagement of her niece to the said English nobleman and that if she accepted Elizabeth I would “proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our future cousin and heir”. The proposal came to nothing, mainly because Dudley was unwilling.

On the other hand, a French poet at Mary”s court, Pierre de Boscosel de Chastelard, was apparently in love with her. In early 1563, he was discovered in a security search hidden under the queen”s bed. Apparently he planned to surprise her when she was alone and declare his love for her. Mary was horrified and banished him from the kingdom, but he ignored the edict and, two days later, forced his way into her room as she was about to undress. The queen reacted with fury and fear and, when Moray rushed into the room at the cries for help, she exclaimed, “stab the villain with your dagger!”; Moray did not agree, as Chastelard had already been reduced. The poet was tried for treason and beheaded. Maitland claimed that Chastelard”s passion was feigned and that he was part of a Huguenot plot to discredit the queen and tarnish her reputation.

In February 1561, he briefly met his English-born first cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, when he was in mourning for Francis II. Darnley”s parents-the Earl and Countess of Lennox-were Scottish aristocrats and English landowners who had sent their son to France to express their condolences, in anticipation of a possible union between their son and the Scottish queen. Both Mary and Darnley were grandchildren of Margaret Tudor-sister of Henry VIII of England-and patrilineal descendants of the country”s great seneschals. Darnley was part of a more recent Stuart lineage with the Hamilton family, descended from Mary Stuart, Countess of Arran and daughter of King James II. They later met on Saturday, Feb. 17, 1565, at Wemyss Castle in Scotland, where Mary subsequently fell in love with the “tall boy” – Elizabeth I mentioned that he was over six feet tall or about six feet. They were married at Holyrood Palace on July 29, 1565, but, although both were Catholics, a papal dispensation for the marriage of first cousins had not been obtained.

English statesmen William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester had worked to obtain Darnley”s license to travel to Scotland from his residence in England. Although her advisors had brought the couple together, Elizabeth I felt threatened by the marriage, since, being descendants of her aunt, both Mary and Darnley had claims to the English throne and their children, if any, would inherit that claim. However, Mary”s insistence on the marriage seems to have arisen from love rather than political strategy. On this, the English ambassador Nicholas Throckmorton declared that “it is said that she is surely bewitched” and that furthermore the liaison could only be avoided “by violence.” The union infuriated Elizabeth I, who felt that it should not have taken place without her permission, since Darnley was her cousin and an English subject.

Mary”s marriage to a Catholic leader led her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, to join a great rebellion with other Protestant lords, including Lords Argyll and Glencairn. Mary set out from Edinburgh on August 26, 1565, to confront them, and on the 30th of that month Moray entered that city, but shortly thereafter abandoned the castle; the queen returned the following month to rally more troops. In what became known as the Chaseabout raid, Mary and her forces and Moray and the rebel lords marauded through Scotland without coming to direct combat. The royal troops were galvanized by the release and restoration of Lord Huntly”s son and the return of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, from exile in France. Unable to muster sufficient support, Moray left Scotland in October to seek asylum in England. Mary expanded her privy council with more Catholics – Bishop of Ross John Lesley and Mayor of Edinburgh Simon Preston of Craigmillar – and Protestants – the new Lord Huntly, Bishop of Galloway Alexander Gordon, John Maxwell of Terregles and James Balfour.

Before long, Darnley, described as physically attractive but dull and violent, became arrogant and demanded the so-called “marriage crown,” which would have made him sovereign with rights to the throne if he outlived his wife. Mary refused his request and her relationship with him became strained, although they conceived a son in October 1565. On one occasion, Darnley physically assaulted his wife in an unsuccessful attempt to cause her to miscarry. He was also jealous of Mary”s friendship with her Catholic private secretary, David Rizzio, who was rumored to be the child”s father. Rizzio, a shrewd and ambitious musician of Piedmontese origin, had become the queen”s closest confidant: relations between the two were so close that rumors began to spread that they were lovers. The strange bond aroused the heated hostility of the Protestant nobles defeated in the Chaseabout raid and, in March 1566, Darnley entered into a secret conspiracy with them. On March 9, a group of confabulators, accompanied by Darnley, murdered Rizzio before the pregnant Mary at a dinner at Holyrood Palace. Two days later, the disillusioned Darnley switched sides and the queen received Moray at Holyrood. On the night of March 11-12, Darnley and Mary escaped from the palace and took temporary refuge in Dunbar Castle before returning to Edinburgh on March 18. Three of the conspirators – Lords Moray, Argyll and Glencairn – were restored to the council.

Mary and Darnley”s son James was born on June 19, 1566, at Edinburgh Castle, but the murder of Rizzio inevitably led to the breakup of the marriage. Darnley was seen as an incapable consort and ruler, to the point that his wife gradually deprived him of all royal and marital responsibility. In October 1566, while staying at Jedburgh on the Scottish Marks, the queen made long journeys on horseback of at least four hours each to visit the Earl of Bothwell at Hermitage Castle, where he lay ill from wounds sustained in a skirmish against brigands on the border. The trip was later used by her enemies as proof that the two were lovers, although suspicions did not arise at the time because she was accompanied by her advisors and guards. Immediately after returning to Jedburgh, she suffered a severe illness that included frequent vomiting, loss of sight, loss of speech, convulsions, and lapses of unconsciousness; she was believed to be near agony or death. His recovery on October 25 was credited to the skill of his French physicians. The cause of his illness was unknown; possible diagnoses were physical exhaustion and mental stress, a hemorrhage due to a gastric ulcer

At Craigmillar Castle, near Edinburgh, Mary and the leading nobles met to discuss the “Darnley problem” in late November 1566. Divorce was bandied about, but it was probably agreed among the lords present to remove Darnley by other means: “it was thought expedient and more profitable for the common good that so young a fool and so proud a tyrant should not reign or have authority over them; he should be disillusioned one way or another; and whoever should get the deed or do it, should defend them.” Darnley feared for his safety and, after his son”s baptism at Stirling shortly before Christmas, he made his way to Glasgow to reside temporarily on his father”s estates. At the beginning of the journey, he had suffered from fever – officially he had smallpox, but it is possible that he was suffering from syphilis or it was the result of some poisoning – and remained ill for some weeks.

At the end of January 1567, Mary ordered her husband to return to Edinburgh. He recovered from his illness in a house belonging to James Balfour”s brother at the old abbey of Kirk o” Field, just inside the city walls. The queen visited him daily, so it seemed that they were progressing towards a reconciliation. On the night of February 9-10, 1567, she went to see him in the early evening and then attended the wedding celebrations of a member of her family, Bastian Pagez. In the early hours of the morning, an explosion devastated Kirk o” Field and Darnley was found dead in the garden, apparently suffocated. There were no visible marks of strangulation or violence on the body.This event, which should have been Mary”s salvation, severely damaged her reputation, although it was still doubted that she was aware of the plot to murder her husband.Also Bothwell, Moray, Maitland and the Earl of Morton were among the suspects.The Queen of England sent a letter to her niece to address the rumors: “I would not do the duty of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not tell you what everyone is thinking. Men tell that, instead of catching the murderers, you are looking through your fingers as they escape; that you will not seek revenge upon those who have done this to you with so much pleasure, as if the deed had never taken place, or that those who did it had been assured of impunity. For my sake, I beg you to believe that I would not esteem such a thought.”

By the end of February, the lords believed Bothwell was guilty of Darnley”s murder. Lennox, Darnley”s father, demanded that Bothwell be tried before the Houses of Parliament, to which Mary agreed, but Lennox”s request for an extension of time to gather evidence was denied. In Lennox”s absence and with no evidence presented, Bothwell was acquitted after a seven-hour trial on April 12. A week later, Bothwell managed to convince more than two dozen lords and bishops to sign the Ainslie Tavern Bond, in which they agreed to support his goal of marrying the queen.

Between April 21 and 23, 1567, she last visited her ten-month-old son in Stirling. On April 24, on her way back to Edinburgh, with her consent or not, she was abducted by Bothwell and his henchmen, who took her to Dunbar Castle, where he may have raped her and thus irreparably consummated the planned marriage at Ainslie, to which she had allegedly also committed herself, according to the English. On May 6, Mary and Bothwell returned to Edinburgh, and on May 15, at Holyrood Palace or Holyrood Abbey, they were married in the Protestant rites. Bothwell and his first wife, Jean Gordon, sister of Lord Huntly, had divorced twelve days earlier.

Originally, Mary thought that many nobles had supported her marriage, but things soon got out of hand between Bothwell – with the new title of Duke of Orkney – and his former companions, because the marriage proved to be very unpopular among the Scots. Catholics considered the marriage illicit, as they did not recognize Bothwell”s divorce or the validity of the Protestant ceremony. Both Protestants and Catholics were surprised that the queen would marry her husband”s alleged murderer. Their cohabitation was stormy and Mary soon became discouraged. Twenty-six pairs of Scots, known as the Lords Confederate, rose up against her and Bothwell, and organized an army to dethrone them. The kings confronted the lords at Carberry Hill on June 15, but there was no battle, as the royal troops deserted during negotiations, and because Mary agreed to surrender to the lords on condition that they restore her to the throne and let her husband go. Bothwell was granted safe conduct across the countryside and the lords escorted Mary to Edinburgh, where crowds of onlookers jeered her as an adulteress and murderer. The lords broke their promise and, on the following night, Mary was imprisoned in the castle on an island in Loch Leven.Between July 20 and 23, Mary had a miscarriage of twins.On July 24, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her year-old son, who ascended the throne under the name James VI; the Earl of Moray was appointed regent.Bothwell was sent into exile in Denmark, where he was imprisoned, went mad, and died in 1578.

On May 2, 1568, Mary escaped from Loch Leven Castle with the help of George Douglas, brother of the Earl of Morton and owner of the castle. She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men, threw herself onto the battlefield and rode at the head of her soldiers, urging them to follow her example; she faced a smaller Moray force at the Battle of Langside on May 13. Defeated, she fled south and, after spending the night at Dundrennan Abbey, crossed the Solway Firth to England in a fishing boat on May 16. She planned to seek refuge in that country on the basis of a letter from her aunt promising help. She landed at Workington (Cumberland) and spent the night in the village hall there. On May 18, local officials took her into protective custody at Carlisle Castle.

She apparently hoped that Elizabeth I would help her regain the throne, but her cousin was cautious and ordered an investigation into the conduct of the confederate lords and whether she was guilty of Darnley”s murder. In mid-July 1568, the English authorities moved Mary to Bolton Castle, which was far from the Scottish border but not too close to London. A commission of inquiry, or “conference,” as it was known, was established at York and then at Westminster between October 1568 and January 1569. Meanwhile, in Scotland, her followers were engaged in a civil war against the regent Moray and his successors.

The “chest cards”.

Mary objected to being tried by any court, invoking her status as a “piously consecrated queen,” and because the person charged with bringing the prosecution was her half-brother the Earl of Moray, regent of Scotland during James”s minority, whose main motive was to keep her out of the country and her followers under control. Mary could not meet with the latter or speak in her defense before the court. Moreover, she did not want to participate in the inquest in York-she sent representatives in her place-though her aunt forbade her to attend anyway. As evidence against her, Moray presented the so-called “letters from the chest,” eight unsigned missives allegedly owned by Mary addressed to Bothwell, two marriage certificates, and one or more love sonnets, which, according to Moray, were found in a gilt silver chest about a foot (30 cm) long and decorated with the royal monogram of the late Francis II of France. The accused denied having written them and argued that, as her handwriting was not difficult to reproduce, The documents were crucial to the accusers because they would prove her complicity in Darnley”s murder. The leader of the commission of inquiry, the Duke of Norfolk, described them as “horrible” letters and “diverse and affectionate” ballads, while some members of the conference sent copies to the English queen, insisting that, if authentic, they would prove his niece”s guilt.

The evidentiary validity of the letters has been a source of controversy among historians, for whom it is impossible to verify them, since the originals, written in French, were probably destroyed in 1584 by James VI, while the copies – in French or translated into English – that are still preserved do not form a complete whole. Incomplete printed transcripts exist in English, Scots, French, and Latin from the 1570s. Other documents examined include the certificate of divorce of Bothwell and Jean Gordon. The Earl of Moray had sent a messenger in September to Dunbar to obtain a reproduction of the minutes from the town records.

Her biographers-Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir, and John Guy, among others-have concluded that the documents were probably forgeries, that incriminating passages were inserted into genuine letters, or that the missives were written to Bothwell by someone else or by Mary to someone else. Guy pointed out that the letters are disjointed and that the French language and grammar employed in the sonnets are too rudimentary for someone with the education she had. Even so, certain phrases in the letters – such as verses in the style of Ronsard – and some features in the wording would be compatible with Mary”s known writings.

The “letters from the chest” did not appear publicly until the conference of 1568, although the Scottish privy council had seen them in December 1567. Mary was pressured to abdicate and was held captive for almost a year in Scotland. To secure her seclusion and force the abdication, the documents were never made public. Wormald considered this reluctance on the part of the Scots to show the letters and bring about their destruction in 1584 to be, regardless of their contents, proof that they contained real evidence against the queen, while Weir argued that they show that the Scottish lords needed time to fabricate them. At least some of Mary”s contemporaries who read the letters had no doubt that they were authentic; among them was the Duke of Norfolk, who secretly conspired to marry her in the course of the investigation, although he would later deny it when Elizabeth I alluded to her marriage plans: “I would never say that I would marry another person someone who is not even sure of his pillow.”

Most of the commissioners, after a study of the contents and a comparison of samples of the handwriting of the accused, recognized the letters as genuine. As she might possibly have wished, Elizabeth I concluded the investigation with a verdict that proved nothing either against the confederate lords or against her niece. For mainly political reasons, she did not wish to convict Mary of murder or to “acquit” her, so there was never any real intention to proceed by judicial means. In the end, the Earl of Moray returned to Scotland as regent, while the detainee remained in custody in England. Elizabeth I had succeeded in sustaining a Protestant government in power in Scotland without having to convict or release its legitimate sovereign. In Fraser”s opinion, it was one of the strangest “trials” in the history of English law: it was concluded without finding either party guilty, as one returned to Scotland and the other remained in prison.

Conspiracies

After York”s inquiry, on January 26, 1569, Elizabeth I ordered Francis Knollys, husband of Catherine Carey, to escort Mary to Tutbury Castle and place her in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his dread wife, Bess of Hardwick, who were her guardians for fifteen and a half years, except for brief interruptions. Elizabeth I considered her niece”s dynastic claims to be a serious threat and so confined her to the Shrewsbury estates of Tutbury, Sheffield Castle, Wingfield Manor and Chatsworth House, located in the interior of England, halfway between Scotland and London and distant from the sea. Mary was allowed to have her own domestic staff – of about sixteen servants – and needed thirty carriages to transport her belongings from one residence to another. Her chambers were decorated with fine tapestries and carpets, as was her baldachin on which she had embroidered the French phrase En ma fin gît mon commencement (“In my end is my beginning”). In the residences she lived with the comforts of an aristocrat, except that she was only allowed out under strict supervision. She spent seven summers in the spa town of Buxton and much of her time embroidering. In March, her health deteriorated, probably from porphyria or sedentary lifestyle, and she began to have severe pain in her spleen, but a move to another residence in Wingfield did not improve the situation either. In May, while at Chatsworth House, she was attended by two physicians. In the 1580s, she had severe rheumatism in her limbs that caused her to limp.

In May 1569, Elizabeth I tried to mediate the restoration of her niece in exchange for guarantees for the Protestant religion, but a convention held in Perth rejected the deal outright. Mary then entered into an epistolary relationship with Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, the only English duke and cousin of Elizabeth I. She hoped to marry “my Norfolk,” as she called him, and be free. She hoped she could marry “my Norfolk,” as she called him, and be free, not to mention that she was confident she would get royal approval for her new marriage. In addition, the Earl of Leicester sent her a letter informing her that, if she retained the Protestant faith in Scotland and married Norfolk, the English nobles would have her returned to the throne of Scotland and she would be the rightful heir of her cousin in England. At this point, Norfolk and Mary became engaged and he sent her a diamond ring. In September, Elizabeth I discovered the secret negotiations and, enraged, had the Duke of Norfolk taken to the Tower of London, where he was held between October 1569 and August 1570, while Mary was again removed to Tutbury with a new jailer, Huntington. In May 1570 she was again taken to Chatsworth House, but in the same period Pope Pius V promulgated the bull Regnans in Excelsis (“Reigning on High”) which excommunicated the Queen of England and released Catholic subjects from obedience.

Moray was assassinated in January 1570 and his death coincided with a rebellion in the north of England in which some local lords organized a plan of escape to free Mary, although she did not participate in it because she was still confident that her cousin, then in her forties, unmarried and without heirs, would reinstate her on the throne. These uprisings convinced Elizabeth I that Mary was a threat. English troops intervened in the Scottish civil war and consolidated the power of the anti-Marian forces. The leading English secretaries – Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, Lord Burghley – watched the detainee carefully with the help of spies installed in her close circle. Cecil visited Mary at Sheffield Castle and presented her with a long series of articles that would establish the alliance between her and her cousin. The agreements included the ratification of the Treaty of Edinburgh, with Mary”s relative renunciation of the English throne; furthermore, the latter could not marry without her aunt”s consent. However, the outcome was in vain and, in the spring of 1571, Mary expressed, in a letter to the Earl of Sussex, that she had little confidence in the resolution of her problems.

In August 1570, the Duke of Norfolk was released from the Tower and, shortly thereafter, became involved in a conspiracy far more dangerous than the previous one. An Italian banker, Roberto Ridolfi, acted as an intermediary between the Duke and Mary so that the two could marry with the support of foreign powers. In fact, in the plan, the Duke of Alba would invade England from the Spanish Netherlands to provoke an uprising of the English Catholics, whereby Elizabeth I would be captured and Mary would ascend to the throne along with her future consort, who would probably be the governor of the Netherlands and half-brother of Philip II of Spain, John of Austria. They had the backing of Pope Gregory XIII, but neither Philip II nor the Duke of Alba had any intention of assisting the Duke, and furthermore the rebellion in England was not guaranteed. Elizabeth I, put on alert by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, had easily learned of Ridolfi”s plans, discovered the plot and had the conspirators arrested. Norfolk, arrested on September 7, 1571, was tried in January 1572 and executed on June 2 of the same year. With the queen”s support, Parliament introduced a bill preventing Mary from ascending the English throne in 1572, although Elizabeth I unexpectedly refused to give her royal assent. The “letters from the chest” were published in London to discredit the detainee, and plots centered on her continued. After the Throckmorton conspiracy of 1583, Walsingham introduced in Parliament the Bond of Association and the Act for the Queen”s Safety bills, which punished with death anyone who conspired against Elizabeth I and prevented a putative successor from benefiting from her assassination. Given the numerous plots in her name, the Bond of Association proved to be a key legal precedent for her subsequent death sentence; it was not legally binding, but was signed by thousands of people, including Mary herself.

In 1584, Mary proposed a “partnership” with her son James VI and announced that she was ready to stay in England, that she would renounce the Roman pontiff”s bull of excommunication and withdraw from the political scene, thereby supposedly abandoning her claims to the English Crown. He also offered to participate in an offensive league against France. As for Scotland, he proposed a general amnesty, supported the idea that James VI should marry with the consent of Elizabeth I and, also, that there would be no change in matters of religion. His only condition was the immediate relaxation of the conditions of his captivity. James VI agreed to the idea for a while, but then rejected it and signed a treaty of alliance with Elizabeth I, with which he abandoned his mother. The English queen also refused the “partnership” because she did not trust that her cousin would cease to conspire against her during the negotiations.

In February 1585, the Welsh spy William Parry was condemned to death for conspiring in an attempt to assassinate Elizabeth I, unbeknownst to Mary, although her own agent Thomas Morgan was implicated in the plot. Following this, the so-called Babington conspiracy was hatched, the result of various confabulations for different purposes, but which was in reality a trap set by Francis Walsingham, the leader of Elizabeth I”s spies, and the English nobles against Mary, since they considered the execution of the “monstrous Scottish dragoness” to be inevitable. Since April 1585, Mary was confined in Tutbury Castle, under the custody of Amias Paulet, a Puritan “immune to the charm” of the dethroned queen and who, unlike Knollys and Shrewsbury, found her annoying and did his best to tighten the conditions of her isolation. Paulet read all of Mary”s letters and also prevented her from sending them secretly through the laundresses; moreover, he would not tolerate her giving charity to the poor, because he believed it was a way of ingratiating herself with the local people. He went so far as to want to burn her a package containing “abominable filth,” namely rosaries and silk cloths with the inscription Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”). Because Mary could not tolerate the unhealthy atmosphere of Tutbury, they decided to move her to a manor surrounded by a moat in Chartley, residence of the Earl of Essex, where she arrived at Christmas.

Gilbert Gifford, a courier involved in the plan to free Maria, on his return from France, was captured by Walsingham and convinced to work for him: once Paulet was informed, Gifford was able to contact Maria, who had not received letters since last year, and put him in touch with a way to contact his French correspondents, without Paulet”s knowledge. Mary dictated her letters to her secretary, who coded them, wrapped them in a leather bag, and inserted them into the beer barrel caps that regularly supplied the palace. The letters would arrive in Gifford”s hands in nearby Burton and he would hand them over to Paulet, who would decipher them and send them to London with Walsingham. Once copied, Gifford would deliver them to the French ambassador, who would take them with him to Thomas Morgan, Mary”s correspondent in Paris.

Thus, Gifford”s false conspiracy to free Mary was met with a royal plot by some young English Catholic gentlemen. The leader of this group, who saw the Scottish queen as a martyr, was Anthony Babington: their plan was to kill Elizabeth I and place Mary on the throne. Babington, who had had contact with Morgan in the past, had unknowingly fallen into Walsingham”s trap. Mary, not paying so much attention to the intrigues of the local nobility, felt safe with Babington and Morgan; therefore, she entered into correspondence with Babington, who on July 14 sent her the plan for Elizabeth I”s escape and regicide. Walsingham, with Babington”s letter already deciphered, awaited Mary”s reply, which he would use to accuse her of high treason. Mary, confused and undecided about what to do, asked her secretary for an opinion, who advised her to abandon such plans, as she always did. In the end, Maria decided to respond and, on July 17, wrote a letter detailing the conditions of her release, but gave no response to the plan to assassinate her aunt. Thus, her complicity was unclear, which is why Phelippes, Walsingham”s decipherer, added a postscript regarding the attempted regicide. Two days after the dispatch, the missive was in the hands of Walsingham and Phelippes and, on July 29, it reached Babington, who was arrested on August 14 and taken to the Tower of London, where he confessed everything.

Trial

Once discovered, the conspirators were tortured, summarily tried and drawn and quartered. On August 11, 1586, Mary was arrested while riding and taken to the gatehouse at Tixall. With intercepted missives from Chartley, the captors were convinced that Mary had ordered the attempted assassination of her aunt. Still in Paulet”s custody, she was taken to Fotheringhay Castle on a four-day journey, which ended on September 25. The jurists found it difficult to organize the process, since a foreign sovereign could not be tried and, in such a case, would have to be sent into exile; they searched for antecedents of other monarchs tried in court, but the results were inconclusive: the unknown Cajetan – tetrarch of the time of Julius Caesar -, Licinius – brother-in-law of Constantine I -, Conradinus of Swabia and Joanna I of Naples. Nor did they have sufficient legal instruments: in fact, at that time, the law provided that an accused was to be tried by his peers and it was clear that none of the highest English lords was like the Scottish queen; moreover, Elizabeth I herself could not judge her. In the end, the jurists relied on the fact that the “crime” had occurred in England and, with this argument, they were able to proceed and establish a court made up of the most important English nobles.

In October the court of thirty-six nobles, including Cecil, Shrewsbury and Walsingham, was set up to try Mary for the crime of high treason under the Act for the Queen”s Security. Enraged, she denied the charges and at first refused to submit to the trial. Before the English ambassadors who summoned her on October 11, she said: “How is it that your lady does not know that I was born a queen? Do you think that I would denigrate my position, my status, the family from which I come, the child who will succeed me, the foreign kings and princes whose rights are trampled on my person, by accepting such a request? No! Never! However crooked it may seem, my heart is firm and will suffer no humiliation.” The next day, she was visited by a deputation of commissioners, among them Thomas Bromley, who told her that, even if she protested, she was an English subject and subject to the laws of England and, therefore, she must appear at the trial, because, otherwise, she would be condemned in absentia. Mary shuddered, wept and refuted the treatment of English subject and that she would have preferred to “die a thousand deaths” rather than recognize herself as such, since she would be denying the divine right of kings and admitting the supremacy of English laws also from the religious point of view. Finally she told them: “look to your consciences and remember that the world theater is wider than the kingdom of England”.

Aware that she would irremediably be condemned to death, she capitulated on October 14 and in her letters compared the trial to passages from the Passion of Christ. At the trial she protested that she was denied review of the evidence, had her documents taken from her and was denied access to a lawyer, and claimed that, being a foreign anointed queen “consecrated by God,” she had never been an English subject and therefore could not be convicted of treason. After the first day of the trial, tired and distressed, she told her servants that she felt like Jesus in front of the Pharisees who shouted “Away! Away! Crucify him!” (cf. John 19:15) At the end of the trial, she pronounced before her judges, “My lords and gentlemen, I place my case in God”s hands.”

She was convicted on October 25 and sentenced to death almost unanimously, except for one commissioner, Lord Zouche, who expressed some dissent. However, Elizabeth I hesitated to sign the execution, even with the English Parliament pressing to carry out the sentence, because she was concerned that the murder of a foreign queen would set an infamous precedent and feared the consequences, especially if, in revenge, James VI of Scotland, the son of the condemned woman, were to organize an alliance with the Catholic powers to invade England. Not bearing so much responsibility, Elizabeth I asked Paulet, her niece”s last custodian, if he could devise a clandestine way to “shorten the life” of Mary to avoid the consequences of a formal execution, but he declined to do so because he would not make “a wreck of my conscience or leave so great a stain on my humble offspring.” On February 1, 1587, Elizabeth I signed the death warrant and entrusted it to William Davison, a privy councilor. ten members of England”s privy council – summoned by Cecil without the queen”s knowledge – decided to carry out the sentence immediately.

Execution

At Fotheringhay on the night of February 7, 1587, Mary was told of her execution the next day. She spent the last hours of her life praying, distributing her belongings among her close circle, and writing her will and a letter addressed to the King of France. Meanwhile, the scaffold was erected in the great hall of the castle, two feet (0.6 m) high and covered with black cloaks. It had two or three steps and was furnished with the slash, a cushion for her to kneel on, and three stools, for her and the Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, who were present during the execution. The executioner Bull and his attendant prostrated themselves before her and begged her pardon, as it was customary for them to do before those sentenced to death; she replied, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you will put an end to all my troubles.” Her servants – Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle – and the executioners helped her remove her outer garments, which revealed a velvet dunce and a pair of crimson brown sleeves, the passion color of the Catholic martyrs, specially chosen by her because she wanted to die as a Catholic martyr before the English Protestants, with a black satin bodice and black trimmings. When she undressed, she smiled and said that “no one had ever prepared like this…nor ever taken off her clothes in company. Kennedy covered her eyes with a white veil embroidered in gold. Mary knelt on the cushion in front of the slash, placed her head on top and stretched out her arms. Her last words were: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (cf. Luke 23:46).

The executioner did not decapitate her with one stroke. The first grazed the neck and fell on the back of her head, while the second stroke cut the neck, except for some tendons, which the executioner severed using the axe. Then he raised his head and declared: “God save the Queen”. At that moment, the brown curls turned out to be a wig and the head fell to the ground, and evidenced that she had very short gray hair. Cecil”s nephew, present at the execution, informed his uncle that the “lips flapped up and down a quarter of an hour after the head was cut off” and that a small dog, owned by the queen, came out of hiding among the skirts, although eyewitness Emanuel Tomascon did not include those details in his “exhaustive report.” The items she allegedly used or wore at her execution are of dubious provenance; contemporary accounts claim that her clothes, the slash, and anything that touched her blood were incinerated in the fireplace of the great hall to deter relic hunters.

When Elizabeth I learned what had happened, she was outraged and claimed that Davison had disobeyed her instructions not to disassociate himself from the order and that the privy council had acted without her authorization. The English queen”s hesitations and deliberately vague provisions suggest plausible deniability in an attempt to avoid direct involvement with her cousin”s execution. Davison was arrested, confined in the Tower of London, and convicted of negligent conduct, although he was released nineteen months later after Cecil and Walsingham interceded on his behalf.

Mary”s request to be buried in France was refused by Elizabeth I. Her body was embalmed and placed in a protected lead coffin until her burial, in a Protestant ceremony, in Peterborough Cathedral in late July 1587. Her entrails, removed as part of the embalming process, were secretly buried inside Fotheringhay Castle. Her body was exhumed in 1612 by order of her son James VI (James I in England) for burial in Westminster Abbey, in a chapel opposite the tomb of Elizabeth I. In 1867 the tomb was opened in an attempt to determine the resting place of King James I, who was found with Henry VII, but many of his other descendants – Elizabeth of Bohemia, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the children of Anne of Great Britain – were buried in Mary”s crypt.

Opinions in the 16th century were divided between Protestant reformers – such as George Buchanan and John Knox – who vilified her mercilessly, and Catholic apologists – such as Adam Blackwood – who praised, defended and extolled her. After her son”s coronation in England, historian William Camden wrote an authoritative biography based on original documents, in which he condemned Buchanan”s assessments as supercilious and “emphasized Mary”s evil fortunes rather than her malign personality.” Divergent interpretations persisted into the 18th century: William Robertson and David Hume argued that the “letters of the chest” were true and that Mary was guilty of adultery and murder, while William Tytler took the opposite view. In the second half of the twentieth century, Antonia Fraser”s Mary Queen of Scots was labeled by Wormald as the “most objective work free from the excesses of flattery or attack” that had characterized older biographies; her contemporaries Gordon Donaldson and Ian B. Cowan also produced neutrally worded works. Jenny Wormald concluded that Mary”s life was a tragic failure because she could do nothing in the face of the allegations against her; her dissenting view contrasted with a post-Fraser historiographical tradition in which the Scottish queen was seen as a pawn in the hands of conniving nobles.

There is no concrete evidence of her complicity in Darnley”s murder or of a conspiracy with Bothwell; such accusations were based on supposition, so Buchanan”s biography has been discredited as a “near full-blown fantasy.” Mary”s courage in her execution helped establish her popular image as the heroic victim of dramatic tragedies.

Sources

  1. María I de Escocia
  2. Mary, Queen of Scots